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Dow and Mitsui JV to turn sugarcane into bioplastics at world’s largest plant

By Rory Harrington , 21-Jul-2011

Dow and Mitsui JV to turn sugarcane into bioplastics at world’s largest plant

Dow Chemical Co and Mitsui have announced a joint venture to set up what they claim would be the world’s largest integrated plant to manufacture bioplastics from sugar cane-derived ethanol for packaging.

The global companies plan to develop the site in Brazil to initially generate ethanol from cane, with technology to convert this into a range of conventional plastics scheduled to be fitted later.

Drop-in replacements

A Dow spokesman told FoodProductionDaily.com the expertise to produce a range of bioplastics from ethanol had already been developed.

Slated markets for the biopolymers will be flexible packaging as well as the products for the hygiene and medical segments.

The company declined to confirm directly on whether it would be producing conventional plastics such as polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE). But a spokesman seemed to suggest this would be the case when he told this publication: “The biopolymers we plan to produce will be green alternatives and a drop-in replacements for many of the products sold into these markets today”.

Dow said the move into bio-based feedstocks would diversify its product portfolio and make it less reliant on fossil fuel-based raw materials.

50/50 split

No financial details have been released but Reuters reported the cost of the project could be more than US$2bn.

Dow said the first facility would have an annual ethanol capacity of 240,000 cubic metres, adding that the company did not wish to disclose additional capacities at present.

The first phase – which includes construction of the plant at Santa Vitoria – would start within the next three months, said the firm.

Under the terms of the deal, which is expected to be competed by the end of the year, Mitsui will acquire a 50 per cent stake in Dow's 17,000-hectare sugar cane growing operation in the Minas Gerais region of the South American country.

"This landmark move underscores Dow's commitment to invest for growth in high-value, innovation-rich sectors through strategic partnerships," said Andrew N. Liveris, Dow's chairman and CEO.

Bioplastics trend

The announcement by Dow is the latest in a number of initiatives to tap into South America’s huge potential to supply renewable resources to make bioplastics.

Last year, Braskem SA, Brazil's largest chemical company, opened its own plant to turn sugar cane into plastic. This followed on from its announcement in 2009 to team up with Danish company Novozymes to develop PP from sugar cane.

The move also seems to echo the thinking of industry leaders such as Nestle. Anne Roulin, the company’s global head of packaging, recently told FoodProductionDaily.com that, given the limitations of the barrier properties of packaging from polylactic acid (PLA), they believed the next generation of bioplastics would come from the use of renewable feedstocks to produce conventional materials such as PE and PP.

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